Editor’s Note: This is a guest post taken from Leo of Zen Habits.
Money can’t buy you love. It can’t buy you happiness either.
Today’s materialistic world often urges us to buy the coolest gadgets, the trendiest clothes, bigger and better things, but research shows that possessions and purchases don’t buy us happiness. According to an article on CNN:
By and large, money buys happiness only for those who lack the basic needs. Once you pass an income of $50,000, more money doesn’t buy much more happiness, [according to a happiness studies].
So while we are being pushed towards materialism, it’s for monetary gain by corporations, not for our own happiness. Unfortunately, it’s hard to escape the trap of materialism, and find happiness in other ways than buying stuff online or finding joy in the mall.
But it’s possible. Here’s a guide to finding a materialism-free life and discovering true happiness.
All around us, there are messages telling us to buy stuff. On the Internet (blogs included), we see continuous advertising trying to get us to purchase a product or service. It’s the main reason for television, and movies are continually made with products placed throughout, so that we aren’t always sure what is advertising and what was put in there by the director.
Flip on the radio or open up a newspaper or magazine, and you’re bombarded my more advertising. Go to a shopping center/mall, and the urge to buy comes from every direction.
This message to continually buy, buy, buy … and that it will somehow make us happpier … is drilled into our heads from the days of Happy Meals and cartoons until the day we die. It’s inescapable.
Well, almost. You could go and live in a cabin in the woods (and that actually sounds nice), or you could still live in our modern society, but find ways to escape materialism.
Here are some suggestions:
- Limit television. Do you really enjoy watching TV for hours? Think about which shows you really, really love, and only watch during that time. When the commercials come on, go do something else. Or use Tivo to watch TV. You can even give up cable TV entirely, if you’re brave — I have, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
- Eschew the news. Journalists will never tell you this, but if they’re completely honest, they’ll confess that the most important part of any news company, from TV or radio news to Internet or print new, is the advertising division. It’s the division that pays the paychecks of the rest of the company. The news is important in driving traffic to the advertising. So when you’re watching or reading news, you’re really being sucked in to advertising. Try this instead: boycott the news for a week. I’ve done it for about two years, and it hasn’t hurt me a bit. In fact, it’s helped me a lot.
- Limit Internet reading. I’m not saying you should cancel your cable Internet subscription or anything. I love reading blogs. But find just those that you truly love reading, that give you the most value, and limit your reading to those. And just do it once a day, for 30 minutes or so. If you can do that, you’ve gone a long way towards tearing yourself away from advertising.
- Give up magazines for books. Magazines are also designed with advertising in mind. And they rarely give you much value. Try reading an ad-free book instead. It’s a much better use of your time.
- Don’t go to the mall or Walmart. The only purpose of these places is for you to spend money. If you just want a place to spend your Saturday afternoon, find a place where you don’t need to spend money to have fun — a park or a beach, for example. If you need to buy something, go to a single store (not the mall) and go in and get what you need. Don’t browse and walk around looking at stuff. You’ll get sucked in.
- Monitor your urges. When you’re online, or watching TV, or at a store, keep track of the number of times you want to buy something. Keep a little notebook or index card, and just put tally marks. Once you become more aware of your urges to buy things, you can start to control them. If you could control them, limiting your consumption of media (see above tips) isn’t really necessary — although I would argue that it still gives you a better quality of life.
- Use a 30-day list. If you still really want to buy something, put it on a list, and write down the date you added the item to the list. Now tell yourself you cannot buy that item for 30 days. It might be difficult, but you can do it. When the 30 days have passed, if you still want it, then buy it. But you can’t buy anything (besides essentials like groceries) without putting it on the list for 30 days first. Many times, our urges to buy something will pass during this waiting period.
- Declutter. I find it pretty amazing to see all the crap I buy over a period of years, when I go through my closets and other possessions and start getting rid of stuff I don’t use or want anymore. It’s a gratifying process, and at the same time, it makes me realize how useless all our consumer shopping is. I don’t need any of the stuff! When you do this, you may be less likely to buy more stuff. Especially if you enjoy the decluttered look of your house as much as I do.
- Find other forms of entertainment. There are other things to do besides watch TV or movies or read magazines or newspapers or the Internet. Try playing sports or exercising, or playing board games or creating art or writing or reading a book. Try doing fun things with your kids or visiting relatives and other loved ones. Try volunteering with a charity. I’m sure you could come up with 100 free or cheap things to do.
- Buy used. When you get the urge to buy something, and you’re convinced that it’s needed, try finding it used instead of new. Look in thrift shops or garage sales or flea markets or similar places.
A True Path to Happiness
So, if you’re able to escape materialism, how can you find true happiness? There are many ways, and each of us is different, but here are some things I suggest trying:
- Grateful list. Make a list of things about which you’re grateful in your life. Give thanks for them daily.
- Think positive. Try eliminating negative thinking from your life, and thinking positive instead.
- Small pleasures. Make a list of small things that give you great pleasure. Sprinkle them throughout your day. Notice other small pleasures as you go through your day.
- Kindness. Practice random acts of kindness and compassion. Do it anonymously. Help those in need. Volunteer. Make someone smile.
- Love. Make an intimate connection with your loved ones. Develop your friendships. Spend time with them, converse, understand them, make them happy.
- Health. Exercise and eat healthy — it sounds trite, but it can bring great happiness to your life.
- Meaning. It’s often useful to find meaning, either through a church or spiritual way, or through those we love in life or through the things we’re passionate about. Give yourself a purpose.
- Flow. Eliminate distractions, and really pour yourself into whatever you’re doing. If it’s writing an article, like this one, really put yourself into it, until you forget the outside world.
- Know yourself. Become attuned to what brings you happiness. Study yourself. Learn about what you love, and about your ability to love. Increase your capacity for compassion.
What brings you happiness? How do you feel about materialism, and is it worth trying to escape it? Share your thoughts in the comments (right after the advertisement :)).